Government must also do everything it can to keep projects progressing safely

The RIBA is asking government for a meeting to discuss how its members could help make vacant buildings available for use by NHS and other key workers.

Hundreds of empty hotel rooms, flats and commercial spaces could be loaned out to house NHS staff and other essential employees so they can live closer to hospitals and workplaces during the coronavirus crisis, it said in a letter sent jointly with the RTPI and RICS today.

They said many of their members worked for clients who owned vacant properties across the country and these could be used to help ease the strain on emergency service staff.

Matthew Howell, RICS managing director, said: “We would be keen to meet with government to discuss this and ensure the space and any vacant beds are put to good use.”

The joint letter also called on the prime minister to open up a range of emergency measures to the professions, including fiscal support for firms to allow staff to work from home and wage relief for individuals on reduced hours or facing temporary redundancy.

The letter stressed that the property sector was straining under the pressure of the coronavirus, with effects “not seen since the financial crash in 2007”.

Alan Vallance, RIBA’s chief executive and a co-signatory of the letter, called on the government “to do everything it can to make sure construction projects are able to progress safely”.

He added: “This is a critical time for the built environment. Without financial measures to help preserve cash flow and clarity on how the planning system and development control systems will continue to operate, our sector remains at risk.”

The government is threatening tougher measures to limit the movement of people after a weekend of fine weather saw thousands take to the country’s parks and streets.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said the government was considering all options to prevent the spread of the disease, including giving police the power to enforce social distancing rules.